"It’s not the same city we grew up in”
OGDEN — Back when she was a kid, Roxy Marocchi says life in Ogden’s older core was simpler, safer.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t even have keys to our homes,” she said. You didn’t have to lock your doors because you didn’t have to worry about thieves.
Now 62, she says the city is a changed place, and it hasn’t been for the better. She keeps the doors locked on her East Central Ogden home — on Jackson Avenue around the corner from her childhood home on Capitol Street — and has installed motion lights and security cameras to ward off break-ins.
“Over the years, I have just seen that inner city deteriorate ... To me, it’s like the inner city is getting worse and worse and worse,” she said.
Ogden inspires a range of sentiments from those who live and work here, or once lived and worked here. Many of them are positive. However, the city also triggers plenty of less-than-charitable attitudes. In response to a survey conducted as part of the Standard-Examiner’s ongoing Real Ogden project — launched to explore the varied perceptions of the city — many chose “ghetto” when asked to pick the first word that comes to mind when describing Ogden.
Marocchi, for one, picked ghetto — the third most-common word among about 700 respondents — because of the seeming lack of upkeep and care many homes in Ogden’s core seem to get, among other things. “I don’t live in the fancy neighborhood. I live in the inner city, and it’s just ridiculous,” she said.
To be sure, many picked positive words to describe Ogden — “home” and “mountains,” a tip of the hat to the Wasatch Front, topped the survey list. And the survey was hardly scientific. Still, the fact many picked ghetto and other words like “crime” and “gangs” demonstrates many view Ogden with a dose of suspicion or at least harbor mixed sentiments.
“I’ve seen things. I’ve seen gunshots, I’ve heard it and everything,” said Nicolas Castorena, 17, a high school student who lived near the city center before moving to Clearfield with his mother. “I’ve seen stabbings and all sorts of fights.”
The attitudes seem to be a function of survey participants’ experiences in the city.
Cody Patino, 27, who now lives in Salt Lake City but grew up in Ogden and other Utah locales, remembers having to keep up his guard when walking the streets here. If he came upon a group of young men milling around, he’d keep his distance to avoid uncomfortable run-ins.
“Then I’d just cross the street or look at my watch. You just kind of have to be smart about it,” said Patino, who lived at various homes between 23rd and 29th streets east of Wall Avenue. He picked the word ghetto, like Castorena and Marocchi, citing the broken families he encountered when living in the area, as well as seeming crime issues and the lower income levels of people in the sector.
Rhonda Rynes, 55, who picked the word “danger,” associates Ogden with her years as a heroin addict. Clean since 2007, she now lives in Washington Terrace but lived in the neighborhood around 32nd Street and Ogden Avenue in southern Ogden when she was using in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“For me it was scary,” she says, looking back, recalling police sweeps through her neighborhood. “Nothing but drugs.”
She knows Ogden has many positive attributes and just tries to keep the focus on the present when she makes it into the city. “I try not to think about memories,” she said.
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‘GHETTO IS AN EXAGGERATION’
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell doesn’t think “ghetto” accurately captures the spirit of Ogden.
Yes, the city has “tired places,” he said, alluding to neighborhoods in the city’s older core. But programs like the Quality Neighborhoods Initiative are making inroads in revitalization. And he alluded to accolades Historic 25th Street has received as one of the best main streets in the country and recognition Ogden received from Forbes magazine as one of the best cities to raise a family.
“That type of thing doesn’t happen in ghettos,” Caldwell said.
Indeed, Patino, despite his reservations about the city, likes Historic 25th Street — transformed over the years from a seedy spot to avoid into a tourist draw — and says the mountains give Ogden a distinctive flair. Likewise, efforts are afoot to bolster the city’s older core, notably the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood initiative, or OUPN, a joint effort of United Way of Northern Utah, the city of Ogden, Ogden School District and Weber State University.
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Poverty is higher in Ogden’s core, and people in the zone have lower life expectancies and lower high school graduation rates than elsewhere, said Brenda Kowalewski. She’s an associate provost at Weber State and involved in the OUPN effort.
“However, calling Ogden a ghetto is an exaggeration,” Kowalewski said. “Older neighborhoods in cities sometimes get left behind and forgotten as the city grows and new development occurs. Resources, including jobs, people and funding, go into new development rather than maintaining or growing older parts of most cities.”
Tim Jackson, the United Way chief operating officer and director of the OUPN effort, said he’s never heard anyone living in Ogden’s core call it a ghetto. And he’s encouraged by the energy he feels among residents and others trying to reverse the zone’s fortunes.
Even so, not everybody’s convinced.
“I try to keep myself away from Ogden,” Castorena said, alluding to the violence and grit he remembers. “I grew up around that stuff, and I try to stay away from that stuff.”
Marocchi attributes what she says is worse upkeep of homes in downtown Ogden partially to the increased number of rental properties and landlords who don’t care. She also cited the growth of the immigrant Latino population, accustomed to different norms in their home countries.
“It’s probably older people and my generation that feel the same way because it’s not the same city we grew up in,” said Marocchi.
Her work takes her around Northern Utah, and she sees similar issues only in Salt Lake City and West Valley City. At any rate, she doesn’t consider leaving Ogden an option. Her house is paid off and perhaps more significantly, the area has been home all her life.
“The thing about it is, why should I have to move? That’s my neighborhood. That’s where I grew up,” she said.